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Wisconsin Parent

Indoor Fun in Downtown Milwaukee

Feb 16, 2015 11:37AM ● By Julie Henning
Have you ever visited a "big" city on the weekend and the place is a ghost town? Like the quittin' bell rang at 5PM on a Friday and everyone flocked back home to suburbia?

Milwaukee certainly breaks this paradigm and it always makes me happy to see people out and about from the lakefront all the way up to the Marquette Interchange.

And while the "City of Festivals," really ramps up in the summer months, you'll find plenty of options for indoor fun in the heart of downtown.

Discovery World Website:

Discovery World is ideal for families with kids in the elementary and middle school age bracket—the emphasis here is on science and technology and nearly everything is "hands on". In the summer months you might catch Wisconsin's flagship sailing vessel, the Dennis Sullivan moored in the harbor.

Milwaukee Art Museum Website:


Located above the Quadracci Pavilion is Wingspan, the iconic bird-like sculpture that juts out over Lake Michigan. While the Quadracci Pavilion is currently open to the public, the original Milwaukee Art Museum and exhibits are undergoing a major transformation in time for a Fall 2015 renovation. While kids can still check out art packs and make art in the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio, you may want to plan your visit for a more comprehensive visit later this fall (that said, the museum is offering discounted admission in the interim and free admission for children age twelve and under).

Betty Brinn Children's Museum Website:

Milwaukee Children's MuseumIf you have young children, the Betty Brinn Children's Museum is a no-brainier (all hands on and age-appropriate displays that encourage creativity and fine and gross motor skill development). Betty Brinn is located near Discovery World and the Milwaukee Art Museum—you could easily hit all three locations and stay in the same parking spot.

Milwaukee Public Market Website:

VM_ThirdWard_HiRes_Jigsaw_0005Residents of downtown really needed an indoor public market and the Milwaukee Public Market is one of my all time favorites. Featuring vendors with a local connection, you'll find cheese, wine, fish, chocolate, coffee, flowers, gifts and more. People watching and meal eating are best accomplished in the second-story balcony overlooking the stalls below. Make sure to bring in your parking ticket and have it validated after you make a purchase anywhere in the market.

Milwaukee Public Museum Website:

Public MuseumA popular elementary school field trip destination, the Milwaukee Public Museum is all about the "ology's" (zoology, anthropology, geology, historyology). Less hands on than Discovery World, highlights include planetarium shows and a walk through the tropical butterfly house on the second floor.

Safe House Website:

Safe HouseThe Safe House is Milwaukee's 007 themed spy bar and restaurant. Finding the Safe House is half the experience; head down the side alley opposite The Pabst Theater on East Wells Street and look for the flags and awnings shown in this phot0. Chances are someone will ask you for "the password," and if you don't know it, get ready to leave your pride at the door. If you visit with kids, I suggest lunch or early dinner—leave time to explore all the nooks, crannies, and hidey holes. If you want to take the top-secret exit, bring a quarter and look for the old school pay phone.

Evolution Gastro Pong  Website:

EvolutionAnother cool hangout spot in the Third Ward is Evolution Gastro Pong, where you can rent ping pong tables by the hour and play giant Jenga, pool, darts, and arcade games. Reservations are required for groups of ten or more (but also a good idea if you arrive closer to dinner time). While there isn't a kids' menu per se, you'll find cheese curds, corn dogs, and chicken tenders on the appetizers list.

Harley-Davidson Museum Website:

kids_roadpacksA museum that pays tribute to Milwaukee's hog history, the Harley-Davidson Museum is located near the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers. I recommend this experience for people who have a genuine interest in engineering, industry, history, and (well) motorcycles. Kids can participate in an indoor scavenger hunt and (if the weather is nice) play bean bag toss on the front lawn. This is not my first pick for families with active toddlers (but, hey, admission is free for anyone five and under).

Ghromann Museum Website:

MSOE Museum NightThe Ghromann Museum building located on the MSOE campus is home to Man at Work, a collection of 1,000 paintings and sculptures representing the evolution of human work. I really think the rooftop sculpture garden offers some of the most spectacular views of downtown Milwaukee, but this is a fairly "boring" experience for younger kids—punch the top button on the elevator if the weather is nice (if not, skip this one for a nicer day).

More Suggestions

Julie Henning MilwaukeeIf you have hit all the downtown hotspots and want a few more suggestions before you leave town, I highly recommend the Urban Ecology Center (any of the locations are awesome, but my favorite Riverside Park). On Bohemian Brady Street you'll find Art Smart's Dart Mart and Juggling Emporium, a haven of juggling supplies, disc golf discs and gag gifts.

In the basement of the Oriental Theater you'll find Landmark Lanes and some of the best bowling in Milwaukee. In the direction of Madison, check out Palermo's Pizza and Miller Park (both offer tours). Or, hit the Pettit National Ice Center for skating or a few laps around the indoor track.

If nothing else strikes your fancy, see if you can navigate the maze of above-ground crosswalks weaving and winding through downtown. Start at the Shops of Grand Avenue and give your pedometer a workout.

For more information on planning your next trip to Milwaukee, consult VISIT Milwaukee for more ideas, information, and inspiration.